Nature can teach us a lot about the difference between facilitating organization and controlling a system. In fact, there seems to be hardly any controlling energy in nature at all. That’s because nature really doesn’t need a CEO at all. In nature, we see a system designed and structured to run on self-organization instead of micro-management.
What is nature’s secret? How does it create such a resilient, regenerative system without control? Can organizational leaders learn how to design and lead our systems differently to match the adaptive, regenerative, and resilient design found in nature? The answers lie within significant “powers” that are actually three of nature’s cleverly constructed design principles:
Power of Purpose
When we use nature as a mentor we can focus on a shared higher purpose in our organizations. Nature’s purpose is to create conditions conducive to the life of future generations. Our own organizations often have much narrower purposes, called missions. A mission is an articulation of what the organization does, its vision is focused on its aspirations and what it wants to become.
A higher shared purpose comes into the space between an organization and its larger system. This purpose articulates how the organization is contributing to the “thrive-ability” of the external environment. A shared higher purpose is powerful enough to influence all the behavior of the system/organization. If we used this focus in our organizational leadership, we would ask different questions and find different measures of our success. To encourage your organization to develop a shared higher purpose, you might ask things like:
- What is the deep need in the external environment that your organization is uniquely designed to meet?
- What would need to change if we saw our success in terms of the beneficial impact our organization had on the external environment, whether it’s the community or our planet?
Questions like these help shift us away from measuring our success based primarily on internally generated profit.
Power of Self-organization
Nature unleashes self-organization everywhere.
Every living thing in an ecosystem self-organizes in service to the higher purpose in nature.
If we learned how to unleash rather than control talent, our organizational systems would change dramatically.
Most HR processes are designed to hold people accountable and control their behavior. This control orientation shows up in our job descriptions and our performance reviews (both their content and the process) and reinforces the idea of “pleasing your boss” to get a good review. A job description focused on individual duties has control behind it. If we wanted to reinforce self-organization, we would write job descriptions in terms of the outcomes we hope this position or person could achieve.
Power of Feedback
Nature combines purpose and self-organization with rich and diverse feedback that works hard to curb excesses in an ecological system. While our organizations focus on performance reviews, nature focuses on rich and diverse feedback loops that either reinforce certain positive behaviors and discourage less productive behavior in the system.
When we’re incorporating feedback loops, our organizational leadership questions are more like these:
- What feedback reinforces the culture, purpose, and self-organization we want in our organizations?
- What feedback curbs behavior that does not align with our purpose or with our chosen level of organization?
These “powers” are actually three design principles that facilitate self-organization and helps systems evolve. I would love to see what happened if leaders really committed to these three principles when it comes to the organization. Perhaps we could finally realize the same dynamic, innovative, adaptive, and resilient systems that nature has so elegantly designed herself?
We have less than a decade to make a significant impact to alter our current trajectory of 3 degrees C global warming and protect the futures of the next generations. Leadership is about bold change, not maintaining the status quo. Together we can act and engage locally to collectively transform and scale our global community. Together we can make a positive difference! Join me for the upcoming International Leadership Association virtual summit “Sustainability and Beyond: Reimagining Leadership for Just and Regenerative Global Futures” 22-24 June! Learn more and register at: http://bit.ly/Planet2021